Who Is Finnegan?

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Hemingway shooting

WHEN WE PRESENTED our “Hemingway-Fitzgerald Trivia Question” we were fairly confident in our answer. We looked for critical support. We received instead a response from Dr. Scott Donaldson disagreeing with our analysis.

“‘Snobbish Story’ possibly based on E.H., Finnegan definitely not (FSF writing about himself). . .”

Scott Donaldson is THE authority on the two legendary American authors. His works include Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship, plus separate books on both men. Hard to believe he could miss on this story, “Financing Finnegan.” (Or indeed on both stories.)

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is F. Scott Fitzgerald writing about himself? Or, instead, as we contend, about his on-and-off friend Ernest Hemingway?

You can read the story here and judge for yourself.
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As for ourselves, further research on the matter confirms our original opinion.

Dr. Donaldson has bought the accepted narrative on F. Scott Fitzgerald. In part, a portrayal of Fitzgerald as victim, with bearish Hemingway as antagonist. This viewpoint is in part attributable to Hemingway himself, and his seemingly unprovoked attacks on Scott in A Moveable Feast. But also to Scott’s “Crack-Up” essays in Esquire.

But again we ask, is Scott “Finnegan”?

At one point in his career he might’ve been. His experiences and one-time standing as a literary wonderboy no doubt informed his view of the character. But at the time he wrote “Finnegan,” nothing about Scott himself any longer fit. And hadn’t fit for a long time.

“Finnegan” is a famous novelist. By contrast, in 1938, for the greater public, Scott Fitzgerald was almost forgotten. He didn’t become a legendary author until the 1950’s, years after his death. In retrospect. No one considered him to be one in 1938. (On the other hand, Hemingway’s standing in 1938 was almost exactly the same as Finnegan’s.)

“Finnegan” has unending money problems– owes his publisher money on advances. Scott Fitzgerald had once been in this situation. But in 1938 he was not working on a novel, had received no advance for one. Instead, in 1937, as described on his Wikipedia page, F. Scott Fitzgerald had “entered into a lucrative exclusive deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer” to write screenplays. In 1937 Fitzgerald earned $29,757.87– the equivalent of $540,000.00 today. Over half-a-million dollars. In 1938 when he wrote “Financing Finnegan” he was swimming in money. For anyone alive during the Great Depression it was a near-fortune.

If anything, Scott’s situation fits well not with Finnegan, but the narrator of the tale.

What of Ernest Hemingway?

Again, we have to go back to 1938, when Fitzgerald wrote the story. Hemingway’s latest novel, To Have and Have Not, released in October 1937, had been a giant flop. It was slammed by reviewers, including the New York Times, which said, “this new novel is an empty book.” It was Hemingway’s first novel in eight years. It’s generally regarded by critics today, as it was then, as his worst novel.

As for finances, a glance at Hemingway’s Selected Letters shows he was in continual money trouble– at least as much as Scott had ever been. In part because Hem refused to crank out scores of short stories (or screenplays) purely to earn money. In 1938, after the failure of a long-awaited novel, Hemingway’s financial situation must’ve been particularly precarious.

Anyway you slice it, “Finnegan” is a depiction not of F. Scott Fitzgerald but of his one-time friend, Ernest Hemingway. Still smarting from his buddy’s shot at him in Esquire, Scott used the same forum to subtly even the score. Scott Donaldson didn’t catch it– but the ever-sensitive Ernest would have.

Ritz Bar w FSF picture

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F. Scott Fitzgerald as Pop Writer

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Scott pensive

According to Ernest Hemingway‘s testimony in A Moveable Feast, Scott Fitzgerald claimed to intentionally alter the ending of his short stories to make them more saleable. More palatable to Saturday Evening Post readers.

Yet when one reads Fitzgerald’s “pop” tales, their endings are as perfect, as apt, as artful, as those of his more highly-regarded works.

This is especially true of the “Basil and Josephine” stories, most of which are compact gems full of insight, beauty, and meaning.

Examine these two endings, each of which is a culmination of theme and plot:

from “Basil and Cleopatra”

“Jubal the impossible came up with an air of possession, and Basil’s heart went bobbing off around the ballroom in a pink silk dress. Lost again in a fog of indecision, he walked out on the veranda. There was a flurry of premature snow in the air and the stars looked cold. Staring up at them he saw that they were his stars as always– symbols of ambition, struggle and glory. The wind blew through them, trumpeting that high white note for which he always listened, and the thin-blown clouds, stripped for battle, passed in review. The scene was of an unparalleled brightness and magnificence, and only the practiced eye of the commander saw that one star was no longer there.”

from “A Snobbish Story”

“Then she caught her breath as the lights changed, the music quickened and at the head of the steps, Travis de Coppet in white-satin football suit swung into the spotlight a shimmering blonde in a dress of autumn leaves. It was Madelaine Danby, and it was the role Josephine would have played. With the warm rain of intimate applause, Josephine decided something: That any value she might have was in the immediate, shimmering present– and thus thinking, she threw in her lot with the rich and powerful of this world forever.”

(Hardly throwaway endings! Note: Both reflect disillusion and disappointment, and so are not exactly “happy.”)

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “pop” stories are as sophisticated as his more famous works. In a few cases, more so.

What makes them important to the editors at New Pop Lit?

Fitzgerald’s pop stories point the way, more than his “serious” work, toward where literature needs to go NOW in 2017. Readability, humor, sparkle, punch– presented in unpretentious fashion available to all. The short story as lively as a pop song.

(As I’ve pointed out often, the short story was once THE popular American art form.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s pop stories are soaked in verve and style. A writer falling back on his past, consumed in memory and insight, not trying to overawe literary critics but simply writing. Letting his magical talent flow. They’re also very well written.

While today a Fitzgerald classic like “Babylon Revisited” seems a tad maudlin and contrived– the saloon Irishman crying in his beer at closing time– the pop tales are fun and very real.
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FYI: With even the Hemingway-Fitzgerald experts unable to come up with the solution to our Trivia Question (we contacted a few of them), we’ll be giving and explaining the answer soon. Did we overreach? You’ll have to judge for yourself.